There have been many changes in Cuba’s currency in the last couple of years. Cuba’s currency changed in 2021 when the Cuban government finally ended the dual currency system that has been in place since 1994. The Cuban peso was devalued for the first time since Castro led the revolution in 1959. Then big changes in the summer of 2022 in the official exchange rates have also led to more changes. Dealing with currency exchange rates in Cuba is a moving target and you’d think that all these changes make dealing with money in Cuba easier. Well, sometimes it is and sometimes, well, it’s not. So read on for a guide to Cuban currency, how to get cash in Cuba, what cash to take to Cuba, credit card usage in Cuba, and what you should watch out for when paying for things in Cuba. We’ll also provide a brief history of Cuban currency, so you can understand perhaps why many see the single currency as a welcome change, and why the changes in August 2022 were also welcome.
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A History of the Cuban Currency
I know, I know, you just want to know how to get Cuban money and how to pay for things in Cuba right? Ok, skip ahead, but sometimes a little history is important so you can understand why we are where we are with regard to Cuba, dollars, and foreign currency and why it’s often particularly confusing. So ready? Here we go.
The Cuban Peso (or CUP) was created as Cuba’s currency by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was the first president of the country’s Central Bank in the post-revolution period. The Cuban Peso – aka the CUP.
Cuban Currency in 1993: Legalising the US Dollar
The Cuban government also legalized the use of the US dollar alongside the Cuban peso (CUP) in 1993 to help with stabilization following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US dollar was legal tender in Cuba from 1993 until 2004. The Cuban Peso (CUP) was still used, but only by Cubanos. The dollar, however, became the most used currency in Cuba during that time, but wait, there’s still more.
Cuban Currency in 1994 – adding the “convertible Cuban Peso – “CUC”
In 1994 the Cuban Government created the “Convertible” Cuban Peso (or CUC) at the same time as banning the use of US dollars in Cuba. CUC gradually replaced the US dollar. CUC was used for buying items shipped in from abroad – but couldn’t be taken out of the country, although it could be used in the free trade area of Panama. CUCs were pegged at US$1 to the CUC but were exchanged with the public at a rate of 24 to buy and 25 to sell. Tourists would use CUC and Cubans would be paid in CUP – and most goods of any use (apart from the rationed food items) were only available in CUC.
And so, Cuba had two currencies. The CUP and the CUC, but both called the Cuban Peso. Most tourists in Cuba until Jan 1 2021 used CUCs. Most Cubans received their wages in CUPs, but most goods for sale were only available to be bought in CUC. This made life very expensive for locals.
In addition in 2020 Cuban banks stopped accepting US dollars from those trying to deposit them, citing US sanctions.
Cuban Currency Changes in 2021 – the removal of CUC
In December 2020 the Cuban Government announced that Cubans would have until the end of June 2021 to trade in their CUCs for CUPs. They would receive 24 Cuban Pesos (CUPs) for each 1 CUC.
At the same time the Cuban Government started to digitalize payments, introducing bank cards for Cubanos, and the ability to pay for things electronically, via phone-based apps, at the same time they introduced a new digital currency. (Sigh, yes, why does it have to be this complicated?)
The withdrawal of CUC started on January 1st, 2021.
The digital currency is called MLC (moneda libremente convertible). This MLC can be used to pay for items in the stores where imported goods, like foreign medications, imported foods, etc) with the new bank cards. You can’t pay for goods in these stores, called MLC stores, with Cuban Pesos.
You can only pay with MLC, which Cubans can only pay with by loading up their MLC cards with foreign currencies, like Euros, Canadian Dollars, or British pounds. And most Cubans can’t get hold of these foreign currencies unless they get them from tourists, or family and friends from abroad send them to them.
The value of MLC cards is measured in US Dollars, but this is the one currency that you CANNOT use to buy MLC cards or top them up with. There’s more here on the official Cuban government website about MLC and MLC cards.
Added to this Cubans are STILL paid in CUP, in Cuban Peso, which can be used to pay for food and basic items, but nothing else.
And that’s why, in a nutshell, there’s so much that you’ll read about why Cubans want paying in foreign currency. Because it’s a tradable commodity that they can use to live.
Wait. There’s more.
There are three ways of getting hold of Cuban Pesos (there are loads more on this later, but briefly)
- By changing your foreign currency at an official “Cadeca” – the government exchange houses.
- By sticking your ATM card in a bank ATM in Cuba. (note this doesn’t work for US bank-issued cards)
- By changing your foreign currency on the black market aka informally aka with your casa particular owner/taxi driver/anyone else.
Until August 2022 the official Government rate was 24 CUP to the US Dollar. And because the Cubano on the street wanted the foreign currency more than they wanted the Cuban peso you’ve been able to get WAY better rates informally. (and its not just for the dollar, its for the Euro, GBP, and Canadian dollar too)
And so the black market flourished so that Cubans could buy stuff at MLC stores, save money in foreign currencies, etc. The black market rate bounced around, but you could get 100-115 CUP to the US Dollar (and similar rates for other currencies).
What happened in August 2022 to the Cuban Peso and Exchange Rates?
That official exchange rate (scroll back up to remind yourself) – of 24 CUP to the US$ was set in 1994.
It was on August 4th that the Cuban Central Bank devalued the Cuban Peso, the CUP, and brought it into line with the rates you could get on the black market. Now banks and Cadecas are giving 120 CUP to the US dollar.
So is this a good thing? Heck yes.
The new rate is available from banks, bureaux de change, and hotels in exchange for hard currency.
Why did the Cuban Government devalue the Cuban Peso in August 2022?
Here’s what the Economy Minister Alejandro Gil said when the announcement was made.
“Today there is a high level of foreign currency that is entering the country that is not being captured by the national financial system,”
(i.e. Cubans were being paid by tourists in foreign currency and NOT depositing it in banks. Foreign visitors were exchanging their dollars, pounds, and euros on the street, not with the government).
What is the Cuban Currency?
The Cuban currency is the Cuban peso.
How to buy Cuban currency – Where to Exchange Money in Cuba
The Cuban Peso is a closed currency. That means it’s not available outside of the country. So you can’t head to your bank or your home airport and change a few dollars or pounds before you get to Cuba. You have to wait until you arrive to buy Cuban currency. This will likely be your first experience of the Cuban queue. Get used to it. Don’t forget that you will need your passport to change money. There are several places where you can get hold of Cuban pesos.
Buy Cuban Pesos from the Cuban official currency money exchange – CADECA
The official Cuban currency exchange offices are called Cadeca’s. You’ll find them at airports – (here are our experiences at Havana Airport ) and you’ll also find them in major towns. Just search for cadeca. Rates will always be posted above the window that you approach individually – they won’t serve you if more than one person is at the window at a time.
Getting Cuban currency from ATMs in Cuba
There are ATMs in the major cities in Cuba. We’ve only had one instance where the ATM didn’t work – and that was because my debit card had been stopped by my bank. Of course, this is a challenge when internet access was poor (read about how to get internet in Cuba here ) and my mobile phone didn’t work either. In 2023 you can buy a tourist sim card – there’s more on that here. You’ll want to ensure that you have an ATM card that works in Cuba. Check with your provider before traveling.
The Central Bank announced on August 9th that there is no commercial margin applied for purchases or withdrawals in CUP.
Be aware that power outages might affect ATMs’ working
You should check with your bank BEFORE you travel and always have a backup plan. There are a few things you should know about ATMs in Cuba too.
Most US Bank cards will NOT work. Most European, Latin American, Asian, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian bank cards WILL work in Cuban ATMs – but check for your particular bank.
Wise (formerly Transferwise) cards will NOT work in Cuba. Neither do Revolut cards.
The following branded cards WORK in Cuba – but cards from some bank providers might not – take a backup and check with your provider before traveling.
- Union Pay
The following branded cards do NOT work in Cuba
- American Express
Cards issued by US banks will NOT work in Cuba
As a UK ATM cardholder, when we needed an ATM in Cuba we could find one. And they always worked for us. We have UK Bank Accounts and UK Cards. Apart from once on our first trip to Cuba when my card stopped working. Luckily, we had a backup, as it was a further 3 weeks before the card worked again (we were back in the UK before we were able to contact the bank!)
All foreign exchange rates, including those set by the Cuban banks’ ATMs that you will use, are set by the Cuban government.
Most Cuban ATMs have a withdrawal limit (usually the equivalent of US$200 PER DAY (not per transaction). Cuban ATMs usually dispense 10’s but can also dispense 5’s and 20’s.
Changing Money Informally in Cuba
This is the biggest market for money changing in Cuba. Exchanging it on the “black market”, or with your Casa Particular Owner, or Taxi Driver. It is easy to buy Cuban currency on the black market. You’ll find plenty of offers – from the taxi or colectivo drivers, looking for hard currency, to those standing around waiting by ATMs and Banks. Know how to check that the currency you’re receiving isn’t fake and that you understand what a good exchange rate is.
While the government issues the OFFICIAL rates for exchange you’ll find that the street rate still may differ, even with the changes that the Cuban government brought in in August 2022. And this site here is a great way to get an idea as to what exchange rate you’ll be offered. The exchange rate that you’ll be offered will also depend on how much the person wants your dollars, pounds, or euros. Many Cubanos have family abroad or are saving for travel abroad and that’s one of the reasons that they want foreign currency.
It is NOT illegal for YOU as a tourist to exchange money in this way.
Using Debit and Credit Cards in Cuba
You will be able to use (non-US issued) Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards in Cuba, but only at upmarket, high-end hotels, expensive restaurants, and tourist shops. So, if you’re staying in casa particulars that you haven’t prepaid, eating in paladars, and hailing colectivos and taxis on the streets you’ll need to make sure you have cash.
However, you’ll want to be sure you have a backup of cash.
In 2022, there were rolling power outages in Cuba and when the power goes out your credit cards won’t be approved and you’ll have to find an alternative means of payment. These outage continue and you’ll need to check locally on timings.
Credit Cards in Cuba
Cuba is primarily a cash-based society when you’re there in person unless you’re staying at a high-end resort or hotel. While we did use a credit card while we were in Cuba, it was to pay for pre-booked Casa Particulars
In Cuba, credit cards are only really used at high-end establishments or for buying and pre-booking activities before your arrival.
US-based Credit Cards will not work in Cuba.
There is a 3% surcharge from Cuba on payments and cash withdrawals on credit cards in addition to any charges from your card provider.
Using Debit Cards in Cuba
Debit cards can be used in the same way as credit cards in Cuba. If it’s a Visa or MasterCard, then it will be accepted in the same way that the credit card is. You’ve just got to find the location that accepts it. Withdrawing money in Cuba from an ATM is the same as in any other country.
Tips for Cash and Payments in Cuba
Your time in Cuba is limited. We recommend organizing as much as you can before you get there. Plan what cash you’re likely to need, how you’ll pay for things, and, well, here are some tips for cash and payments while in Cuba.
Take Less Cash to Cuba by Prebooking and PrePaying Online
One way around this, if you’re not comfortable carrying wads of cash around is to prebook and prepay for your activities, accommodation, and transport. Here are some suggestions as to how you can do that.
- Prebook your transport – you can use our partner in Cuba to book AND pay for your airport transport, and shared or private rides all around the island.
- Prebook activities – want to take a classic car tour in Havana? A day trip to Vinales? A private walking tour? Book it online before you go to Cuba and you won’t have to worry about taking the cash there to pay for it. > read our article on things to do in Cuba and get some ideas for what you shouldn’t miss!
- Don’t forget that it is mandatory to have medical travel insurance for Cuba – if you don’t have it on arrival and you’re asked for it, you’ll have to buy a policy before you’ll be allowed in the country! > You can get a quote for Cuba Travel insurance here
- Save money on drinking water by buying and taking a filter water bottle so you CAN drink the tap water (which isn’t deemed as safe without further treatment) – our guide to drinking water in Cuba is here.
Want to know about tipping in Cuba? Here’s our guide on the etiquette of tipping in Cuba.
Keep your cash secure in Cuba
Serious crime isn’t a problem in Cuba, but the more cash you have on you, the higher the risk of it being stolen. Only take out what you need each day. Avoid counting out large amounts of cash in public. Secure your cash and other valuables when you are away from it. We recommend and use the Pacsafe portable safe. Buy yours here – there are a host of different options! This nifty little device has secured our valuables around the world, even padlocked to trees with all our gear while we’ve been snorkeling on secluded (but busy) beaches! Read about portable travel safes here.
How not to get scammed with cash in Cuba
We’ve felt entirely safe while traveling in Cuba. We don’t feel that we’ve been ripped off at all, but we always take a few precautions. Here are some suggestions of how not to get scammed (and this holds for ANYWHERE in the world).
Always know the exchange rate when changing money
The Cuban Government publishes the official exchange rate here.
Exchange rates on the street will differ around Cuba and they will also differ depending on what currency you want to exchange. Everyone has a different experience. One person will tell you that Euros are preferred in Santiago and US Dollars in Havana. Others will tell you that they got better rates for Canadian dollars over all other currencies. The general rule of thumb is that no foreign currency is likely to be turned down, but stick to the main ones – US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Euros, and British Pounds.
Always count any change when paying for something
Foreign currency looks entirely different from your home currency. Count it out, in the same way that you count the money that you’re handing over to pay for something.
Always confirm a price upfront for goods or services
Taking a taxi? Buying a drink at a bar? Buying souvenirs? Always check the price beforehand and confirm it with the vendor. Confirm the currency that you’re paying in as well. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve had someone tell me that they felt they were scammed when they’d assumed the price was in Cuban pesos… and it turned out to be in dollars.
Confirm it upfront. That way there are no surprises.
Be able to tell the difference between CUP and CUC
One of the challenges of two currencies in Cuba before 2021 was that unsuspecting tourists might have been passed CUPs rather than CUCS. And so it was important to be able to tell if the notes you were being passed were CUP or CUC. That’s still important, as there are likely to be a few CUC still in circulation. And so if you don’t want to be scammed in this way (as CUC are no longer legal tender), then you’ll need to be able to tell the difference between them.
The EASIEST way is that
- All CUC notes or bills have monuments on them. They also have “pesos convertibles” printed on them. You DO NOT WANT ANY OF THESE
- All CUP notes or bills have the faces of famous leaders.
FAQs on Cuban Currency
Got questions about the Cuban Currency? Or want to know more about the currency in Cuba and we haven’t answered your questions? Check out our frequently asked questions about Cuba’s currency below, or ask us yours in the comments.
What is Cuba’s Currency?
The Cuban currency is the Cuban Peso.
Can I buy Cuban currency in the USA, Canada, or the UK?
No. You cannot buy Cuban Pesos outside of Cuba. Cuban money is not traded internationally and is known as a closed currency. You cannot buy Cuban currency outside of Cuba.
What is the best currency to bring to Cuba?
The best currencies to take to Cuba are US Dollars, British Pounds (£), the Euro (€), or the Canadian dollars ($). If you have the chance, then a mix of currencies is best. You can exchange these currencies at official government exchanges or on the street. The currency that is preferred will depend on where you are in the country and if you’re exchanging informally with your casa particular owner or taxi driver, their personal circumstances.
Can I use dollars in Cuba?
Yes and No. The US dollar is not legal tender in Cuba. However, you can exchange it at the new August 2022 rate. Cubans will accept US dollars for payment. US Dollars can still NOT (as of January 2023) be deposited in Cuban bank accounts.
Are there American Banks in Cuba?
No. There are no American Banks in Cuba.
Can I use ATMs in Cuba?
Yes. There are ATMs in Cuba. ATMs will work with foreign cards (with some restrictions that we’ve detailed below) ATMs in Cuba are not designated just for Cuban cards.
Will my ATM card work in Cuba?
It depends. If you have an American ATM card it will not work in Cuba. For all other countries, you should ask your bank before travel as to whether there are restrictions on using it in Cuba. Always take a backup card or two.
Does Revolut work in Cuba?
No. Revolut does not work in Cuba
Which is the best ATM in Cuba?
The only serious answer to this is one that both works and one that has cash inside it. Be conscious of weekends, holidays, and potential power cuts, and always plan ahead when it comes to cash in Cuba. There are often rolling power outages throughout Cuba, so don’t rely on arriving somewhere and finding an ATM that is working.
Can I use a credit card in Cuba?
Yes and no.
When it comes to using credit cards in Cuba, it’s a hard NO if you have a US credit card in Cuba that has been issued in the USA. Credit cards from countries other than the USA are likely to work. Check with your credit card company before your arrival whether they have limitations on use in Cuba. American Express will NOT work in Cuba.
If you are staying at a higher-end hotel then they will accept credit cards. If you are staying in a casa particular (which we seriously recommend), then they are unlikely to accept credit cards. Only high-end restaurants will accept credit cards. If you want to organize trips, activities, and even dining, then we recommend booking ahead online if you want to use your credit card.
You can use credit cards in MLC stores, you will need your passport as well.
Power outages and blackouts might also affect your ability to pay by credit card. Try and have a cash backup, and prepay for accommodation, transfers, buses, and tours BEFORE you arrive in Cuba.
What is the best credit card to use in Cuba?
The best credit card to use in Cuba depends on which country you are coming from. Credit cards are not accepted in many Cuban businesses, and you may find that “the card machine isn’t working” unless you are staying in a high-end resort or visiting high-end restaurants. It’s best to confirm with your current credit card provider if they have experience with credit cards and Cuba. American Express credit cards will not work in Cuba.
Can I buy an MLC Card in Cuba as a foreigner?
Yes. You can buy MLC Cards as a foreign visitor to Cuba. They are available in various denominations. You can buy them with foreign currency (but NOT US dollars) or with a foreign credit or debit card (but not cards issued by US banks). You can buy MLC Cards at the Airport Cadeca. You buy fixed amount cards, e.g. 100, 500, 1000 MLC.
What currency can I change in Cuba?
You can change Canadian dollars, British pounds sterling, Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, Euros, and Mexican pesos in Cuba. You can see the exchange rates at the Central Bank of Cuba here.
You CANNOT exchange Irish or Scottish pound notes in Cuba.
You CANNOT exchange Australian Dollars or Hong Kong Dollars in Cuba.
Notes should be clean, without tears or creases. (Iron them, it works!)
What do you do if you run out of cash in Cuba?
If you have problems in Cuba you’ll be directed to Asistur. This is the Cuban government agency set up to help Tourists. They can arrange for you to have money sent from abroad. They will also be able to assist if you have problems with your credit or debit card being declined.
We have readers who have ended up selling their touring bicycles while in Cuba as a result of running out of cash, please, please, plan ahead, and take enough cash and backup cards. Most people only travel to Cuba once in their lives, so make it memorable for all the right reasons.
Can you pay in Cuba with US dollars?
Yes. It depends on what and where you are buying things.
Our experiences with money in Cuba
We take cash to Cuba – we prebooked our Casa Particulars for the first two weeks of our trip and prepaid them. For everything else we paid cash. And we used ATMs throughout Cuba with only one problem – a card that stopped working, so we used another one.
What is the best way of sending money to Cuba in 2023?
You cannot use Paypal to send money to Cuba (this service stopped in March 2021. You cannot use Western Union to send money to Cuba (this service also stopped in March 2021).
You can also use Duales, which gets great reviews. They not only deliver cash to your recipient’s door, but they’ll also recharge AIS cards too. You do NOT need to be a relative of the person that you’re sending money to either. An AIS card is a free debit card in Cuba. IAS = American International Service. They’re an accepted payment method in Cuba and allow Cubans to easily receive money from abroad.
Essential Resources for Exploring Cuba
Travel and Health Insurance is mandatory for entry to Cuba. If you have medical bills while there you won’t be allowed to leave the country until they’re settled.
Book your Viazul Bus tickets here
Pre-book and prepay shared & private shuttles here
Book the best FREE Walking Tours in Cuba
Reserve attractions, day trips, and activities in Cuba here
Download and install a VPN BEFORE you travel to Cuba > discount coupon here
Pack these Items – you’re unlikely to find them in Cuba
Final Words on Cuban Currency and Money in Cuba
Congratulations if you made it this far! This article used to be SO complicated. And now it’s, well, still complicated, but a lot easier. I suspect, though that we still have a long way to go yet. Cuba has a single currency again, the Cuban Government is taking steps to get foreign currency back into the official mechanisms of the country. But Cuba always has a fluid situation. Take cash with you, take your ATM card, and pre-pay what you can. Cuban currency is getting a lot easier to understand, but, likely, the changes from a dual currency situation to a single one will cause a few issues before they settle down.
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